Dealing With Problems of Discipline in the EFL Classroom | TEFL Jobs London

Dealing With Problems of Discipline in the EFL Classroom

by Clara Harland

Journeying through the EFL Patchwork Quilt, piecing together work in a variety of schools, I have always found that a continuing challenge for me has been to find new and innovative ways of dealing with discipline in the classroom. From rowdy groups of teenagers to adults lacking in motivation because their employers have pushed them into an English course, adapting my discipline techniques to keep the class focussed on the task at hand has been both a source of satisfaction and one of immense frustration.

The silent treatment

I am not a shouty person. Naturally of a shy disposition, I don’t feel comfortable yelling at the top of my voice to get a class under control. Speaking to other teachers about their techniques, the general consensus has usually seemed to be: full-on shouting doesn’t really work. My use of The Silent Treatment perfectly illustrates how much I embrace this theory. This strategy came about spontaneously one bright summer school day when I found myself standing in a cacophony of noise and paper aeroplanes and realised there was no way I could shout loud enough to get my students to shut up. Besides, this was mid-way through the summer and quite frankly I didn’t have the energy to start jumping up and down, shouting and waving my arms as if I were attempting to attract the attention of a passing ship. So I just stood with my hands on my hips, staring at the clock on the wall with my stoniest expression on my face. Eventually, after well over five minutes, the students slowly realised that their teacher had stood without uttering a word for quite some time and eyes began to turn back in my direction. Once silence had descended and I could see that the students knew they were in trouble, I strode over to the board and wrote ‘5 MINUTES’ at the top before calmly informing them: “You are too noisy, you have wasted five minutes, we are staying an extra five minutes into break time”. I have to admit the audible ‘aaaaaw’ from the class was quite satisfying after the irritation I’d been feeling. This approach proved so effective that if they ever got out of control again, all I had to do was stop speaking and look at my watch to get them back in line.

My over-riding philosophy though is to try and reason with the students. Sometimes the following does the trick: “Would you like me to spend the lesson shouting at you? It’s just that that’s really very boring for me and is going to get very boring for you. Which would you prefer? We get on with the lesson or I stand here and shout at you?”

On other occasions, I appeal to their manners by asking the student who’s chatting through someone else’s answer: “What did Silvio just say? You don’t know? Okay, well, it’s important that you stop talking and start listening to each other.”

Humour is the key

I find that humour is the key and if I’ve managed to strike the balance between a serious subtext of “I really mean this” and a jokey delivery then I end up with some of my most rewarding teaching experiences. One boy springs to mind. He insisted on sitting with his hoody and sunglasses on during class, passive aggressive sulk playing across his face. I watched as he took little to no interest in the lesson and then pottered over to him while the others were engrossed in an exercise. I asked if he’d rather I called him Eminem and struck what was no doubt a very uncool ‘Hip Hop’ pose. He laughed, removed the headgear and quickly became one of the most valuable members of the group.

Of course, sometimes we find ourselves working in places where nothing seems to work. At times like these, I turn to the EFL staff room, where teachers commiserate over difficult students, share ideas for dealing with them and if all else fails, my Director of Studies will always step in and sort it out. Having spent three years working in a secondary boarding school where the constant implication from others was one of an undermining “well, these things don’t happen in my classroom”, I have grown to appreciate the predominant trend of support and advice I have come across in EFL. Perhaps I was unlucky with my experience of conventional education but still, now that I have placed myself back in the EFL Patchwork Quilt, I have rediscovered the vibe of camaraderie and support that, for me, is distinctive to this particular environment and which makes working among like minded individuals all the more enjoyable.

Clara Harland is the author of ‘Escape From The Big Green Button’, a novel inspired by her experiences in TEFL.

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